beriev craft.jpg

Russian super-plane suffers malfunction as fires still rage in S. Pedro do Sul

The ninth day of wildfires sweeping across the north and centre of Portugal saw the horror finally make it ‘bigtime’ into the world’s mainstream press.

Featuring a series of dramatic photos, the UK’s Daily Mail hit the nail on the head when it revealed that despite desperate days of firefighting more fires have broken out – extensions of blazes that have been raging for over a week – more homes have been destroyed, more people evacuated and one forestry sapper has been “gravely injured”. Encircled by flames as he was checking on an advancing front of the fire, he has been transferred to Coimbra hospital’s special burns unit where his prognosis is classified as “very reserved”.

The drama, explains mayor Vítor Figueiredo, is that only today (Sunday) – despite multiple calls for help – were sufficient numbers of firemen backed by vehicles and airplanes sent in to fight walls of flames that have been causing widespread chaos in the hills around S. Pedro do Sul (Viseu) for “for almost a week”.

With the firefighting force of 12 planes this afternoon, backed by 1000 firefighters from Lisbon, Leiria, Évora, Coimbra and Faro, Carlos Guerra of the national civil protection authority said the hope was that the wildfires could be finally brought under control “within a few hours”.

Strong winds and malfunctions in two relief planes (one of Russia’s super Bereivs, and one Canadair from Morocco) saw this hope quickly evaporate, and now the early evening news suggests S. Pedro do Sul is braced for another “very complicated night”, with at least five villages “at risk” and fires still active on three fronts.

While the government announces the first lines of credit available to tourist businesses affected by fires that have finally been brought under control in Madeira, the reality is that mainland Portugal is still a long way from ‘being out of the woods’.

One chink of light on the horizon is that the last few days sweltering temperatures are dropping and there is even the chance of some rain in the north, says meteorological authority IPMA.

Updates to follow.

[email protected]

PHOTO: Beriev multipurpose amphibian plane loaned to Portugal from Russia